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The American Photographer As Historian

An Exhibition Curated by Sally W. Donatello

June 13 - September 21, 2006
An image of William L. Finley with black-throated sparrows.
William Finley with black-throated sparrows, Arizona 1910, from 'William L. Finley, Pioneer Wildlife Photographer,' Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore., 1986, by Worth Mathewson.

The birth of still photography is one of the most significant technological innovations in history. As the medium evolved, its documentary role grew. Its various permutations provided acres of records for multiple uses. This exhibition demonstrates the power of the photographic image and the role of the American photographer as historian. From the mid-1800s to the beginning of the twenty-first century American photographers have been critical recorders of history. Pioneers of photography brought a new kind of portraiture into prominence. As soon as they moved outside their studios, a new kind of historian was born. Many of those early photographs are the only known visual documentation of an event, a person, a place, or an artifact.

As witness to history, photographers endure glorious and unforeseen obstacles to capture a moment that would otherwise be lost. The preservation of a small or monumental instance is the backbone of this visual media.

Today's digital processes assure that photography's documentation can reach vast audiences for current and future generations. People unfamiliar with faces of great world leaders or everyday people from remote communities or the landscape of the Old West can learn about them through still photography.

Photography is a silent language that reveals itself through visual storytelling. Its power is insurmountable. The exhibition is organized in four categories: People and places, nature and human nature, photojournalism, and material culture.


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  5. Henderson, Paul. Bound for Glory: America in Color, 1939-1943. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in Association with the Library of Congress, 2004.
  6. Hine, Lewis W. Women at Work. New York: Dover Publications, 1981.
  7. Iooss, Jr., Walter. Classic Baseball: The Photographs of Walter Iooss, Jr. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2003.
  8. Kao, Deborah Martin and Charles A. Meyer (eds.). Aaron Siskind: Toward a Personal Vision, 1935-1955. Chestnut Hill, MA.: Boston College Museum of Art, 1994.
  9. Lacayo, Richard. Eyewitness: 150 Years of Photojournalism. New York: Time Books, 1995.
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  11. Leibovitz, Annie. Dancers. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
  12. Levere, Douglas. New York: Revisiting Berenice Abbott's New York. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005.
  13. Mathewson, Worth. William L. Finley: Pioneer Wildlife Photographer. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University, 1986.
  14. Monk, Lorraine. Photographs That Changed the World: The Camera as Witness, The Camera as Evidence. New York: Doubleday, 1989.
  15. Moss, Roger W. Historic Sacred Places of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.
  16. Patterson, Marion. Grains of Sands: Photographs of Marion Patterson. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.
  17. Peterson, Robert A. Natural Wonders of the Jersey Pines and Shores. Medford, N.J.: Plexus Publishing, Inc., 2005.
  18. Pictures of the Times: A Century of Photography from the New York Times. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1996.
  19. Porter, Eliot. Nature's Chaos. New York: Viking, 1990.
  20. Rogovin, Milton. The Mining Photographs. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005.
  21. Wilson, Laura. Avedon at Work in the American West. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.
  22. Yochelson, Bonnie and Tracy A. Schmid. Esther Bubley: On Assignment. New York: Aperture, 2005.

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